Day 11: Coimbra 

Yesterday the bar owner told me the next stage is 3 km shorter if following the main road. Since it is Sunday morning,  traffic is supposed to be light. I headed off at 4:45 after a  short confusion regarding the correct direction.

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The main road is empty of traffic and it stretches in a straight line,  so the visibility is  good. In addition to the reflective vest,  I’m also carrying a headlamp so I’m shining from afar.

Rabancal (a place I planed on reaching yesterday)  is completely asleep. The Way follows the road until the sign points to a marked Camino path.  It marks the beginning of a extensive Camino markings with a rest area for pilgrims …  the only thing missing is the shade.

In the next village a dog bars the way ahead …  than two…  than three….  I stopped counting after eight. They are all very …  playful.  Fortunately the owner is close by,  and apparently trained them well.

The path continues along the river bed where Spanish king Philip (the fourth or the sixth I can’t remember)  built a bridge.  The bridge still stands but the river is gone. The Spanish built roads and bridges to better control Portugal after the conquest … which proved to be temporary.

Further ahead,  next to the sharp left turn uphill there is house.  In front of it…  a big black dog and a small white dog …  unchained and …  playful.  The smaller one quickly lost interest in me and found a shade to rest in and the bigger one started cuddling with two Portuguese guys who are cycling back to Lisbon.

The Way continues slightly uphill …  just slightly thank God …  until it reaches a larger village. As I passed one courtyard I must have left a strong impression to a dog of a bulldog variety who followed me all the way to the next bar.

Someone shouts a greeting from the bar and as I start to reply automatically I realise its three Italians Paolo,  Simone and Manuel. Since it not difficult to persuade me to take a rest I stop to join them.

After a short break we continue on towards Coimbra. First following the road…  than through the forest…  than uphill…  than round and round downhill. We are joined by Michele as we enter the outskirts of Coimbra.

Right …  now the next step is reaching the albergue which is …  take a guess…  uphill…  a very steep uphill street.

Finally …  we reach the monastery of Santa Clara.  The GPS file is pointing to an albergue further downhill…  but since I learned not to trust it 100% I double check with the waitress from the nearby bar. A good idea..  since albergue is within the monastery just opposite to the bar.  But it opens at 14h …  OK fine its 12:30 now …  and the bar has air conditioning.  We take a seat …   it turns out there is nothing to eat except toast …  in about dozen varieties. It is served on two large slices of bread with a large portion of chips. After all adding two beers and two ice teas to that I feel reinvigorated.

At the albergue I encounter two French girls Marie and Claire…  and my two French roommates from Fatima,  Jean and Francis. The girls don’t appear to have prepared well for the Camino …  in addition to the sizeable backpacks they also carry a tent. When I asked how much does the backpack weigh Claire immediately responded “Too much”.

Albergue is relatively small and it quickly filled up…  and since it is a church one…  females are on the first floor and the men upstairs.

After the standard Camino drill I feel reborn yet gain and decide to stroll down to the city.  Outside I ran into Jorge,  Ruta,  another Italian,  a German guy and a Spanish group…  all crispy fried because the heat is quite intense.  At least it feels like that to me …  and I just had a shower. How it must feel like to them …  in addition I’m a bearer of bad news …  this albergue is full and the next one is 1.4 km further.  It may not sound a lot …  but  like any pilgrim will tell you, the last few km are the worst …  no matter how much you walked that day. On a fascinating side note…  a few hours ago I was dropping from exhaustion like them …  I keep getting amazed what a difference some rest makes …  let alone adding some food and a shower to it.

We cross the bridge to the centre of Coimbra and Ruta is looking at the river longingly …  “Don’t fall in”  says the Italian …  ” you know,  I am actually considering it” says she … c’mon can’t you see how dirty it is …  says I …  “yes but its cold”  … she concludes.  I lead them to the hostel which is unfortunately uphill…  quite steep stairs lead to it. There I run into Simona,  Amarilla from Hungary and Andy from Germany.  They had lunch so I leave them in a search for a place to eat …  and manage to find it.

Back at the albergue I chated up a Portuguese couple who are cycling to Santiago. The Italians showed up with full shopping bags …  followed by the French contingent … slightly reinforced. Both parties set to prepare dinner. Out in the small courtyard I chated with the French …  trying out my two-word French vocabulary,  fortunately Benjamin and Jean speak English and Claire manages quite authentic English accent. Jean and I even started a duet of Ultreia – Chanson de pèlerins. (English translation of the lyrics can be found here) .  Jean know the words and even has a card with lyrics …  and I know the lyrics mostly by heart since I spent quite a lot of time before the Camino practising.

That was day no. 11.